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Court throws out case against command centre

Nat Molomo

THE High Court has thrown out an application for the disbandment of the National Emergency Command Centre. The case was thrown out on the grounds that the applicant, David Mochochoko, does not have the legal standing to file the application.

However, the presiding Judge Moroke Mokhesi conceded that Mochochoko, an area chief of Monyahane, Maseru, had raised a valid argument that by establishing the NECC, the government had acted contravened the law which provided for disasters like pandemics to be managed in terms of the Disaster Management Authority (DMA) Act.

He however, said parliament, and not Chief Mochochoko, had the mandate to hold the executive branch of government to account.

The NECC is an inter-ministerial taskforce set up by then Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to spearhead the national response to the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

In his High Court application last month, Chief Mochochoko argued that Mr Thomas Thabane acted illegally in creating the NECC without an enabling act of parliament.

He argued that its functions should be taken over by the DMA which is the rightful organ to spearhead the fight against Covid-19.

He alleged that since its establishment the NECC had “carelessly” misused funds from the public purse to the tune of M20 million.

He claims the NECC has been awarding tenders “with utter disregard to the laws of Lesotho”.

“The applicant has no alternative remedy to prevent the wrongs, irregularities, illegalities and malicious acts of the aforementioned structure (NECC) and therefore redress is sought in the courts of law,” Chief Mochochoko stated without providing evidence for any of his claims.

But the application was dismissed with costs on Friday by Justice Mokhesi on the grounds that Chief Mochochoko was a mere tax payer who had no legal standing to sue the government over the NECC.

Justice Mokhesi said Chief Mochochoko was a mere tax payer who had failed to show how he stood to suffer any loss and how the NECC was unconstitutionally spending public funds.

“The applicant is suing the executive for not using the structures provided for in the (Disaster Management) Act and expending monies without being duly authorised by parliament in terms of section 114 of the constitution.

“He (Chief Mochochoko) is merely a taxpayer. This, to my mind, does not establish that the applicant has a sufficient interest in the relief sought. He may have an interest in seeing Covid-19 being dealt with in terms of the legal framework provided for in the (DMA) Act, but that does not entitle him to sue to force government to act in accordance with it. The interest is too remote.

“The applicant did not establish that he incurred damage or that when the government acted outside the Act, it infringed a right vested in him. The same goes for the argument that the government wastefully and unconstitutionally is spending money through the NECC.”

Justice Mokhesi said even he felt aggrieved by the alleged waste of funds by the NECC, Chief Mochochoko lacked the legal standing to sue the government.

“That the applicant is suing the government as a citizen of this country to compel it to act in accordance with the DMA Act is not enough to satisfy the requirement that he must have a direct and substantial interest in the outcome of this case.

“It is true that the government acted outside the boundaries of the Act but that does not entitle him to sue to compel government to act within it. Parliament should have acted and exercised its oversight powers over the executive, not the applicant.

“It would appear that the applicant is suing based on the interest of the general populace in wanting to see government act legally, but this is not enough for purposes of locus standi (legal authority). Even if monies are being spent wastefully or illegally at the NECC, that does not entitle the taxpayer to sue. Parliament should carry the torch as part of its oversight role over the executive.

“In the result … the application is dismissed with costs,” Justice Mokhesi ruled.

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